Joy of reading

Do you remember the joy of escaping into a book as a child? Saturday, April 17, the Alabama Book Festival (ABF) at Old Alabama Town in Montgomery reminded me why I love to read.

In a casual conversation, Ed Bridges, director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, said “Excuse me, I need to leave and go hear Pete the Cat.” I laughed because I had not wanted to admit that I was also walking towards the Children’s venue to meet the author Eric Litwin and artist James Dean of Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes.

If you are an “older” reader, you may not know that Eric Litwin is “a guitar-strumming, book-writing, harmonica-blowing, banjo-picking, song-singing, five-time national award-winning, folksy fun type of guy,” who drove his special Pete the Cat car from Atlanta to Montgomery. As the writer sang his funny stories about Pete the Cat, James Dean, a nationally known “meowing” artist, painted Pete to the delight of all the children and parents. Preschool children looked like they were enjoying their first rock concert, waving their arms and dancing in the aisles of the festival tent.

At the Festival, I had the pleasure of presenting the awards and book gift certificates to the Alabama winners of the Letters About Literature contest, sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. Last year one of Alabama’s state winners was a national finalist and won $10,000 for her school library. Two of this year’s high school finalists mentioned that they have written books and asked about becoming a writer in the festival next year. Hannah Downs, the first place winner from Pelham High School, has given permission to share some of her letter to Billy Collins:

I used to be an Egyptian princess, the pink power ranger, the only person in the room that became invisible when I rubbed cream on me. I had a fortress downstairs made of blankets and pillows that would protect me from the ‘bad guys.’ My Barbies talked to me and told me stories. Everyone was best friends with me, and the world was a big playground made for me to run and jump and climb on. It only lasted a couple years, but how I wish I would get those years back when my innocent heart hurt at the sight of corruption, and my mind was set upon my wishes.

Your poem pricked my heart. What a sad reality. Nine years of bliss and then the horror of society sets in. The world would be a different place if the love that we had for mankind carried with us into adulthood.

I dug the hole to China, and I made friends with a colony of beetles from a stump. My eyes would let me see a whole different world in my backyard. My imagination went wild anywhere I went. Just as the swings were an airplane taking me to Africa, the trampoline was a time machine.

How easily things change when having imaginary friends isn’t cool anymore. Childhood is so precious, and you showed that so well in your poem. How sad that we overlook it so easily when it is the only time of our lives when society isn’t crashing down upon us to be like everyone else.”

Hannah, you reminded me of the joy of reading. This year the festival was a fabulous day for readers of all ages because of the hard work of volunteers and collaborative effort of the ABF committee, sponsors, partners and friends.

Written by: Susan P.